Community beyond classrooms
By his own admission, Kendall Bell wasn’t exactly sure what he was looking for at the outset of his college process.
“The process never looks the way you think it will,” Bell muses in hindsight. “You may think you know what you want, but you probably don’t. You may think you know what a college is like, but you don’t until you visit campus. Without guidance, without help, you are just taking shots in the dark.”
For Bell, that light in the dark came from CA’s college counseling team. “The college counselors at CA don’t just learn what you want in a college, they learn you as a person,” reflects Bell. “They talk to you about your classes, about what is going on in your life, about everything else, and only then talk to you about college.”
With guidance, Bell homed in on the important attributes that he was looking for in a college experience: the curricular flexibility to pursue his interest in both chemistry and the humanities; immersive, hands-on learning opportunities; and a “quirky” atmosphere that embraced uniqueness and didn’t take itself too seriously.
The University of Chicago was an early front-runner, a position later solidified by a visit to campus. It quickly became the yardstick against which he compared all other prospects.
It was college counselor Leya Jones that encouraged Bell to take a closer look at Duke University, a school he initially included on his list only because it was local. However, on closer inspection, Bell found that he appreciated the interdisciplinarity built into Duke’s curriculum and the flexible way in which it structures its majors.
“Very few majors at Duke are vertical,” explains Bell. “There are often different versions of a degree, specializations within a major that allow you to reach across disciplines and pursue your various interests.”
Ultimately, Bell’s receipt of Duke’s Reginaldo Howard Memorial Scholarship—a merit-scholarship established in honor of Duke’s first African American president of the undergraduate student body—would make his decision an easy one. Bell found the community of “Reggie Scholars”—and their shared commitment to transformative leadership, intellectual courage, and social justice—compelling. The scholarship would ultimately lead to some of Bell’s most gratifying moments on campus.
“As a Reggie Scholar, I helped to organize and lead campus visit for new Reggie Scholar finalists,” offers Bell. “It was a meaningful experience. Not only was I was representing the program, but I helped to shape our community’s future by setting expectations and asking candidates how they would contribute and advance social justice work.”
Duke’s “work hard/play hard” culture also proved appealing. It forced Bell, an introvert, to stretch and reach out of his shell.
“I realized that life isn’t all about work and school. Duke offered me different communities of people that pushed me to engage outside the classroom, to do other things besides study that helped me make the most of the experience.”
On reflection, it is those opportunities outside of the classroom—those that allowed him to socialize or intellectually engage with his peers and professors—that rise to Bell’s memory as the most meaningful.
“A lot of the fun stuff, the cool stuff that happens in college, doesn’t necessarily happen in class,” says Bell. “It’s having a four-hour lunch conversation with your favorite professor, or being in your room at 11:30 pm on a Tuesday, when suddenly a lot of people roll up, and before you know it you’ve had a fascinating conversation about mass incarceration for hours. Those are the most powerful moments.”
Of course, there were ample academic highlights as well, including a long list of favorite classes—some stumbled on entirely by happenstance—that broadened his perspective or sparked new interests. Being nominated by his professor and winning the Mary McLeod Bethune Writing Award for a paper on moral panics was another particularly memorable moment.
Bell graduated from Duke this past May with degrees in both chemistry and global cultural studies and a minor in African and African American studies. This fall, his journey will come full circle, as he joins the CA community as a Teaching Fellow (he’s also recently completed a two-year stint as a member of CA’s Board of Directors). At CA, he’ll be working alongside one of his favorite teacher-turned-mentor Gray Rushin.
Bell looks forward to shaping his students’ journeys of self-discovery in much the same way others have shaped his. “There are many different places in my educational career where, if it had not been for that teacher that intervened, I would now be in a very, very different place,” explains Bell. “The best classes that I’ve taken are not just about learning the material but about learning about yourself as well.”